The Goethe-Institut's
Reading Room
Object and Shadow

- An exhibition and event programme (19th – 21st April, 2013)


Artists: Sara van der Heide, Sascha Pohle

Contributions by: Clarence Barlow, Charles Esche,
Barbara Honrath, Lars Laumann, Jooyoung Lee,
Daniel Norregaard & Moonsick Gang, Jasna Veličković

Curator: Christina Li

Herengracht 470, Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Doors open 19.00 on Friday 19th April
Official opening 21.00

Visiting hours:
Friday 19.00–00.00
Saturday 16.00–00.00
Sunday 14.00–22.00


There are those who want a text (an art, a painting) without a shadow, without the ‘dominant ideology’; but this is to want a text without fecundity, without productivity, a sterile text. The text needs its shadow: this shadow is a bit of ideology, a bit of representation, a bit of subject: ghosts, pockets, traces, necessary clouds: subversion must produce its own chiaroscuro.
    — Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

The Goethe-Institut's Reading Room Pyongyang: Between Object and Shadow is part of the second edition of Kunstweekend initiated by the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam. During this weekend, the (now-closed) Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang will be re-opened in Amsterdam, providing a conceptual framework for a new set of projects which seek to reflect on the place and function of the Institut: its past activities and its present functions. Alongside and within the Reading Room, a multi-layered evening programme will uncover rarely questioned ideologies and expressions of national representation, while expanding into the complex realms of language, politics, music and life. As a whole, these interventions offer a glimpse into the gaps between the infrastructures and their shadows that shape our everyday existence in the world.

With its 149 institutes an 10 Liaison Offices in 93 countries, the Goethe-Institut’s main role has been the promotion of German language and culture worldwide since its establishment after WWII. For a younger generation it may seem natural or even obsolete that there is a Goethe-Institut in Amsterdam or in any Western European city. However at the time of the Institut’s opening in 1951, the relationship between Germany and its neighbours was far more turbulent and the need for cultural diplomacy, a matter of urgency. In 2013, what does this promotion of culture and language mean in terms of our current understanding of national identity as something complex and heterogeneous?

In terms of the Institut’s activities outside of Europe, the specific history surrounding the shutting down of the Goethe-Institut Reading Room in Pyongyang due to North Korean censorship in 2009, calls for a much more nuanced reflection on the role of Western national cultural institutions in creating spaces of “autonomous” cultural expression within closed countries or newly-formed democracies. This compelling image of an island of knowledge in the middle of Pyongyang – and by extension a freedom to access outside information for North Koreans – has been one of the starting points of this project. Inspired by this history, Sara van der Heide’s re-opening of the Pyongyang Reading Room in Amsterdam produces a geographical and temporal shift, through a constellation of new and existing works, and invited contributions, which connect the histories of Germany and the still-separated Koreas, while critically assessing the role of the Goethe-Institut more generally. As a catalyst, this reconceived Reading Room, will become a space of speculation where the two very different histories of the Goethe-Institut of Pyongyang and Amsterdam, as well as other pasts and voices, can merge under one roof.

Focusing on the context of the Netherlands, Sascha Pohle’s new commission engages with the history of the local branch of the Goethe-Institut, through his investigation on the attic archive of found 16mm films leftover from the cultural screening programme and educational activities that took place in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Pohle’s aesthetic inquiry seeks to locate the relevance and function of this forgotten archive within the Goethe-Institut as it is now, while offering the audience a rare glimpse into this Amsterdam-specific archive. In addition, a selection of films will be screened over two evenings.

Extending beyond an inquiry into the constitution of a national cultural identity vis-à-vis a national cultural archive as that contained by the Goethe-Institut, an evening programme of performance and music will accompany the entire project. Clarence Barlow’s radio play for instance, entitled Deutscher Sang, was originally commissioned by the Frankfurt Radio Station in 1982 and ironically explores the evolution of one piece of music in the context of various forms of nationalism in the 20th century. While Jasna Veličković, in her Good Bach and Shadow Study #4, the composer intervenes in the masterpieces of Bach and Chopin, treating them as ready-mades capable of highlighting the roles of the piano and the player in generating new sound realities. Additionally, a trilingual reading will take place of excerpted interviews and stories in a book documenting Jooyoung Lee’s detoured research on North Korea. As a registration of her candid encounters with a North Korean translator in Berlin and an East German who visited Pyongyang, the work produces a counter-reality to the often one-dimensional representation of the country and its people. This constellation of events falls within the extended opening hours of the Goethe-Institut, creating a temporal connection between the time zones of Pyongyang and Amsterdam.

In the light of the recent closure of the Institut Néerlandais in Paris, raises anew questions around the role of national cultural spaces as containers of cultural histories, particularly in a post-colonial/communist setting. By unveiling the multifarious memories, voices, and realities, The Goethe-Institut's Reading Room Pyongyang: Between Object and Shadow, will encourage audiences to form their own impression on the work and significance of national cultural institutions, while critically considering the ideologies behind the array of cultural structures that form and inform our perception of the world.

–Christina Li

The Goethe-Institut's Reading Room Pyongyang in Amsterdam

"Wir wagen ein Experiment, denn wir wollen als Erste dabei sein, wenn Ihr Land beginnt, sich zu öffnen."
(We are undertaking a risky experiment, because we want to be the first present when your country opens up.).

With these words Jutta Limbach, the former president of the Goethe-Institut, opened the Office for German Academic and Technical Publishing at the Goethe-Institut's Information Centre Pyongyang in secluded communist North Korea on 2 June 2004. Also known as the Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang, this extraordinary initiative of the Institute was perhaps bound to fail, and eventually, the Reading Room would exist no more than five years. The room’s contents were negotiated over a two-year period, with the North Korean government pressing for academic literature on science, technology and medicine, while the Goethe-Institut maintained that 50% of the books should pertain to German culture, language, literature and music. Importantly, free access was to be granted to local audiences and no censorship imposed. Later however, repeated reports emerged that North Korean authorities had tried to deter people from entering the Reading Room, and that they also attempted to censor its contents. As a result, in 2009, the Reading Room was closed.
Over the course of one weekend the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, will become the now closed Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang. This temporal intervention is an imaginary transformation of the current geography of the building, and raises a series of unasked questions that became apparent during the research process into the political and historical circumstances surrounding the opening and closing of the Pyongyang Reading Room. Instead of finding simple answers however, the exploration revealed more complexities: as a gesture, what does the Reading Room say about the rather optimistic diplomatic zeitgeist in 2004? In what way did the friendship between the former DDR and North Korea, both implicitly and explicitly pave the way for the negotiations in making this possible? What did it mean for a nation like Germany, growing self-confidence only 16 years after reunification, to promote democratic values through the opening of a reading room in a communist totalitarian regime like North Korea? How does Germany redefine itself throughout the worldwide activities of the Goethe-Institut considering its own past, or maybe in spite of it? And what chameleon-like roles do the arts have to play in the kaleidoscopic field of political and diplomatic interests?

–Sara van der Heide


FRIDAY, 19th April

Welcoming remarks by Barbara Honrath

Reading of excerpts from Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don’t take off the lids. The pots are empty – a book by Jooyoung Lee

Screening of Berlinmuren (2008), Lars Laumann

Reading of excerpts from Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don't take off the lids. The pots are empty
– a book by Jooyoung Lee

While conducting residencies worldwide, Lee began to wonder, “What would the experience of living in North Korea as a resident artist be like?” With the impossibility of physically traveling to that region, Lee devised a Fantasy Residency in North Korea based on her experience of living in Berlin. The commonalities between by Korea and Germany not only rest on their divided histories; as Lee uncovered during a project she developed in her two-month residency in Berlin in 2010. Her findings – which included part of a North Korean embassy transformed into a hostel, as well as dialogues with a North Korean and an East German who travelled to North Korea – culminated in a book exploring the objects and stories of North Korea she discovered in Berlin. For her reading, performers will share selected fragments in Korean, English and German, inviting the audience to enter these stories, and memories of a different place and time, while embracing the complexity of these changing and momentarily combined histories.

Performers: Seungyong, Moon, Gwen Parry, and Hartmut Wilkening

Jooyoung Lee (Daegu, KR, 1971) is an artist living and working in Seoul, South Korea.

Berlinmuren (2008) by Lars Laumann
Video, 23 mins

In the video Berlinmuren, there are three protagonists: two women and the Berlin Wall. One of the women, who claims to have married the Berlin Wall, says: “The wall didn’t ask to be built, like human beings don’t ask to be born.” When one approaches the Berlin Wall as an object with a soul, links to the idea that objects have a life cycle: birth, growth, full maturity and death. In the case of Germany, at the end of the Cold War, the Wall was demolished and “died” in 1989. This symbol of Germany’s separated history is now only accessible through relics and documentation, while in the divided Koreas; the 250km-long and approximately 4km-wide Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is still very much alive.

Lars Laumann (Oslo, NOR, 1977) is an artist currently living and working in Brussels.
SATURDAY, 20th April

Talk between Barbara Honrath
and Charles Esche

Evening film screenings:

    Mensch und Kunstfigur (1969)
    Doppelkonzert (1963)
    Begegnungen (1969/70)
    Das Deutsche Dilemma (1982)

Talk between Barbara Honrath
and Charles Esche

Barbara Honrath is the director of the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam. Charles Esche is the director of the Van Abbemuseum and has worked extensively in post-communist contexts. The conversation will focus on the significance of international cultural exchange in totalitarian regimes, as well as the potentials and the implications of using art and culture as a catalyst in opening a space for dialogue. In 2011 the Van Abbemuseum brought Picasso’s Buste de Femme (1943) to Ramallah, Palestine. The removal of this masterpiece from its usual context in a European museum, becomes a point of comparison with the temporary imaginary transformation of the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam into the Pyongyang Reading Room.

Evening film screenings

Over two evenings, Sascha Pohle will present a programme of selected films from the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam’s 16mm film stock. While in Pohle’s exhibited work, Crippled Symmetry, a distant and formalistic approach to the film material is apparent, the screening programme will bring the films themselves, last seen decades ago, back to centre stage. The constellation of footage shown highlights notions of visual translation while also connecting to and opening up the myriad issues being addressed in the larger framework of The Goethe-Institut’s Reading Room Pyongyang: Between Object and Shadow.

The first evening will feature a group of films addressing issues in the world at large. Begegnungen (“Encounters”) and Doppelkonzert (“Double Concert”) depict the Goethe-Institut’s language and cultural activities in Nigeria, Egypt and India in the 1970s. A current affairs programme, Das Deutsche Dilemma (“The German Dilemma”), also gives an impression of the cultural debates surrounding the divided Germany. Set alongside this is Margarete Hasting’s film about Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet, in which the framing of figures in space could act as a visual metaphor for the making of this programme segment.

The films will be screened in their original language without English subtitles.

SUNDAY, 21st April

Evening film screenings:

    Reflektorische Farblichtspiele (1967)
    Dr. Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen (1964)
    Antithese (1965)
    Boot aus Stein (1981)

Shadow Study #4 by Jasna Veličković

Deutscher Sang by Clarence Barlow

Good Bach by Jasna Veličković

Evening film screenings

The final night of the weekend brings into focus form and material: from Kurt Schwerdtfeger’s Reflektorische Farblichtspiele (“Reflecting Colour-Light-Play”), to a TV film of Heinrich Böll’s Dr. Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen (“Murke’s Collected Silences”), to Mauricio Kagel’s experimental musical film piece Antithese, and Boot aus Stein (“Boat of stone”) which chronicles Hannsjorg Voth’s impressive project in which he built a stone boat whilst inside a pyramid floating on the IJselmeer.

The films will be screened in their original language without English subtitles.

Shadow Study #4 (2009) by Jasna Veličković
For piano four coils/hands, 7 mins

Shadow Study #4 builds on Frederic Chopin's Prelude Op.28 No.4 E Minor, which is based on a simple melody combined with complex harmonic language. Veličković shifts the listeners’ attention from the melody and accompaniment of Chopin’s Prelude to the resonant sounds of the instrument being played. In her piece, choosing a maximum of four notes out of up to 15 notes in each bar, two performers excite the piano strings by placing coils which transmit the recording of the Chopin's Prelude over them. In this way, the harmonic development of the prelude is extended to the acoustic phenomena of the vibrated strings, opening up almost infinite possibilities as to how the Shadow Study #4 could sound.

Seen as a "print" of Chopin's Prelude the piano acts as a tool, assuming the function of a loudspeaker, or on a meta-level, becoming a “post piano”. In the end, the sound heard is a shadow of an existing music piece. The Prelude itself is used as a ready-made, yet through the process of performance, one sound reality produces another one anew.

Performers: Jasna Veličković and Nora Mulder

Jasna Veličković (Belgrade, SRB, 1974) is a composer and performer based in Amsterdam.

Deutscher Sang by Clarence Barlow
(Radio play, 30 min)

Deutscher Sang was commissioned by the Radio Drama Department of Hessian Broadcasting, Frankfurt-on-Main, Germany. The play’s theme of nationalism has been reinterpreted with some irony by Barlow who recorded all entries beginning with “deutsch” in a German telephone directory being read by an Englishman.

A second layer of the piece comprises Haydn’s Emperor melody, used as an Austrian anthem before it was appropriated by the German authorities in 1922 as their national anthem. The piece was adopted by the Nazi regime and also by today’s Federal Republic. In Barlow’s work, Haydn’s melody was performed on a mediaeval fiddle and notated as harmonics, making it sound two octaves higher than normal. The recording was then played at one-quarter the speed, which lowered the pitch and lengthened the melody.

The two recordings were then treated as a twelve-part canon with a gradually decreasing time-delay, while the volume of the mid-range frequencies in the spoken track were progressively reduced. Near the end, the piece culminates in a final chorale – the text from the German National Anthem as sung until the fall of the Nazis: “Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue / Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang” meaning “German women, German loyalty / German wine and German song”. The text is phonetically sung backwards to the Haydn melody, which is also harmonized backwards in the 14th century manner. Barlow then reversed the tape, resulting in an uncomfortable forward-moving text atop a backwards melody, forwards harmony.

Voice: Tom Mohan
Violin: Margriet Tindemans
Choir: Ensemble Sequentia

Clarence Barlow (Calcutta, IN, 1945) is a composer and professor in composition at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

Good Bach (2001/2004) by Jasna Veličković
For piano and CD, 4 mins
Piece inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

In this work, a recording of Glenn Gould's performance of Bach's C Major Prelude and Fugue is played while the pianist, Veličković herself, interacting with the recording, performs her own composition. For this piece, a statistical method was applied to exactly the same notes as Bach’s works, ordering them from the lowest to the highest pitch and thus creating a different logic which deviates from traditional musical styles. Here, Veličković problematises the technique of playing as well as the status and function of the piano as an instrument. In this piece particularly the usual "composer-score-performer-sound” chain is altered, as Bach's notes become a set of traces – a pattern in a dissembled media and conceptual phenomenology of the work. The listener is therefore confronted with both compositions simultaneously, and in their overlapping, a third one emerges.

Good Bach was previously performed at Goethe-Institut Amsterdam by pianist Dante Boon, on 3 February 2008 in the concert series, Piano Lab.Asmterdam.

Piano: Jasna Veličković

Berlinmuren, Lars Laumann, 2008
© The Artist, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London


Shadow Study #4, Jasna Veličković, 2009


Deutscher Sang, Clarence Barlow, 1982


A conversation with Kyung-chul Hyon, from the book "Fantasy Residency in North Korea:Please don't take off the lids. The pots are empty", Jooyoung Lee, 2010



Sara van der Heide
i.c.w. Moonsick Gang and Daniel Nørregaard

Several posters and signage throughout the Goethe-Institut, concept by Sara van der Heide; designed by Moonsick Gang and Daniel Nørregaard; sign-painting visible from the street by Moonsick Gang

The lists of books, DVDs, and CDs available in the Goethe-Institut Reading Room Pyongyang between 2004-2009 will be disclosed at the Herengracht venue. By replacing all the Dutch texts present inside the Goethe-Insitut Amsterdam with Korean, the location is transformed from a site in the Netherlands into one in North Korea. The only stable factor in this transition is the language of German, which remains the same regardless of where a Goethe-Institut is situated. Moonsick Gang’s painted sign for instance, is displayed in the windows facing the street, and translates from Korean as: Institute for German Culture. His temporary transcription makes us conscious of our own cultural positions and the role of language in articulating these.

Other Contributing Designers

Ara Ahn, O hezin, Yongwan Jeon, Donghun Kang, Yunghun Kang, Aram Kim, Hyungjae Kim, Kyoungtae Kim, Sung Kim & Hyojin Lee, Seungyong Moon & Chris Lee, Heesun Seo, Donghyeok Shin, Dokho Shin

160 business cards

The Goethe-Institut currently has 160 branches across the world promoting German language and culture, funded by the Federal Republic of Germany. On 160 individual business cards, the Goethe-Institut’s namesake, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is printed together with each address of the global Goethe Institutes. These familiar objects offer an alternative means of mapping the ubiquity and lingering imperial implications of national cultural institutes in a globalised terrain.

Oil paint on linen, wood and glass prism, 2.4m(h) x 2m(w)

Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre (1805) is a folded, standing table-screen displaying abstract colour fields and will be on view in the Goethe-Institut. The composition and primary colours in this work immediately bring to mind early 20th century abstract painting, such as that of Mondriaan. Zur Farbenlehre is one example of Goethe’s colour schemes, which he developed in relation to Sir Issac Newton’s discovery that light is made up of particles of different colours. Goethe took a more contextual approach, showing that background colour plays an important role in making other colours visible when light breaks through a prism. This reference to 19th century science and aesthetics offers a poignant reminder of the influence of Enlightenment thinking on our own contemporary perceptions of the world.

Sara van der Heide (Busan, KR, 1977) is a South Korean-born Dutch artist based in Amsterdam.
Sascha Pohle
Installation with slide projections

Sascha Pohle’s commissioned work is based on an investigation of the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam’s 16mm films. Following the discovery of metal trunks containing 16mm films in the Institut’s attic, questions arose concerning the status of this film stock: would they be considered an archive, a collection or just “in storage”? Originally part of a larger body of films disseminated across different Goethe-Instituts for programming purposes at the time, this group of films can be seen as providing an historical account of the Goethe-Institut’s Amsterdam branch during that period. Sascha Pohle’s project deals with the relevance of this particular leftover for the Institut today, while also treating the archive as a sort of shadow of memory that unveils and conceals history – ambiguously oscillating between presence and absence.

Crippled Symmetry is an installation that consists of two slide projections and is an attempt to renegotiate the representation of an archive by reducing it to an abstract form. One series of slides depicts geometrical objects, the origin of which remains mysterious at first glimpse. Only by watching the second projection does a relationship between the two begins to reveal itself.

In the first series of slides, empty square black cardboard boxes of the found 16 mm films can be seen placed face down, offering no further content or information, and are displayed in different ornamental formations on a parquet floor. These boxes act as inverse spaces of the absent film reels, set in and out of alignment with the existing floor pattern. Pohle’s ornaments respond to other elements of the surrounding 19th century architecture of the building, such as wall and floor tiles, rooms partly furnished with patterned wallpaper and wooden panels, the embellished glass windows along the main staircase, and stucco decorations above various doorway arches. The slides projected present a bird’s-eye image of the salon rooms: traces of Pohle’s spatial intervention. These arrangements in total index the artist’s accumulated visual repository and evoke associations with an array of cultural motifs.

The second series in the installation shows the film canisters facing up, making visible the coloured labels and film titles, which read, Faust, Das Triadische Ballett (“The Triadic Ballet”), Deutschstunde (“The German Lesson”), and Von Helgoland bis zur Zugspitze (“From Helogoland to the Zugspitze”). The still images used here, commute between documentation and animation, where each becomes a dot in a sequence of rolling discs.

The collected film titles can be seen as a portrait of the institute’s past or still-present agenda based on a national cultural heritage. However, when framed as ornaments, they speak a mixed language that could also relate to a complex history of decorative patterning, the forms of which have migrated between local and national cultural legacies, which lost their original genealogy across expansive stretches of time and space. Pohle’s title, Crippled Symmetry, is borrowed from a work by the music composer Morton Feldman, who was inspired by asymmetrical deviations in the patterns of Turkish nomad carpets.

Sascha Pohle (Dusseldorf, DE, 1972) is an artist living and working in Amsterdam and Dusseldorf.

Zur Farbenlehre, Colour and Background
(After Goethe)
, Sara van der Heide, 2011

Crippled Symmetry, Sascha Pohle, 2013

_DSC0089 Crippled-Symmetrie3


Design: Daniel Nørregaard
& Moonsick Gang

Typeface: Gothic

Photography: Courtesy of the artists
Texts: Christina Li, and the artists
English Copyeditor: Clare Butcher
Translations: Jennifer Steetskamp (German); Yunjoo Kwak (Korean)

The Goethe-Institut's Reading Room Pyongyang: Between Object and Shadow is part of the second edition of Interventions initiated by the Goethe-Institut Amsterdam.

This project is supported by the AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts).

This project was also made possible with the generous support of:
Barbara Honrath, Melanie Bühler, Barbara Mulzer, Wolfgang Schreiber,
the staff of the Goethe-Insitut Amsterdam and
the Goethe-Institut Headquarters Munich, Germany and Uwe Schmelter.

The German brand Warsteiner, which has a strong connection with the international art world, will support the exhibition in the Goethe-Institut.